US soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan's Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan. Photo: Reuters/ Goran Tomasevic
US soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan's Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan. Photo: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

The United States’ new Afghan policy, unveiled by President Donald Trump on Monday, has major implications for neighboring Pakistan. In fact, the country seems rather to have been cast aside, with India encouraged to contribute more to Afghanistan’s stability. This approach will alienate an important US ally whose soil has long been used by NATO and US forces to transit military hardware and food to bases deep inside Afghanistan.

If Trump is true to his warnings that the US will no more remain silent about Pakistan’s “safe havens” for terrorist organizations, Islamabad is likely to lose military aid and its special status as a non-NATO US ally. “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” the President said.

Trump made it clear that Pakistan has failed to convince the Pentagon it is serious about stopping terror networks, including the Afghan-based Haqqani group. Army-led anti-terror operations in inaccessible and remote areas adjacent to the Pakistan-Afghan border have not impressed the US administration.

In a flurry of activity since July, key US political and military strategists had visited Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan. A five-member delegation led by Senator John McCain visited Islamabad on July 3. The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells, dropped by earlier this month and last Friday the commander of the US Central Command, Gen Joseph Votel, came on a two-day visit.

All were taken to North Waziristan, once home to the Haqqani network, to show what the army has achieved in annihilating terrorist dens. However, all voiced the same concern about ensuring “Pakistani soil is not used to plan or conduct terrorist attacks against its neighbors.”

“The US always sees relations with Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan and India, which results in a flawed perception”

The first reaction to Trump’s announcement came from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, whose chairman, Imran Khan tweeted on Tuesday that “This should teach Pakistan once and for all a valuable lesson: never to fight others’ wars for the lure of dollars.” The former Pakistan cricket captain also tweeted: “We fought two wars in Afghanistan at the US’ behest, paying heavy human and economic costs both times. Our economy suffered over $100 billion in losses. In addition, there were intangible costs on our society. Time for Pakistan to say: Never again.”

Talking to Asia Times, Dr. Sulaiman Hamdani, the recently-retired head of International Relations at Ghandahara University, in Sindh, described the shift in US Afghan policy as being very dangerous for the stability and peace of South Asia. “The US always sees relations with Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan and India, which results in a flawed perception,” he said, adding that before declaring he will send an additional 4,000 troops to the troubled region Trump had made repeated assertions previously that the Afghan imbroglio was a waste of human and financial resources. Alienating an ally, in Pakistan, will not help in this endeavor, said Hamdani.

The Pentagon’s “policy review” on Afghanistan was aimed at bringing into sight a logical end to a drawn-out war that has produced no tangible results and cost Washington US$1.06 trillion, at a conservative estimate, with more 2,350 American lives lost since 2001. With this dismal record in mind, some of Trump’s team – including the newly-fired Steve Bannon – were against sending more US troops to Afghanistan. Ultimately, Trump has over-ruled that advice.

As part of its review, the Pentagon evaluated the “level of support and funding position” of Pakistan with reference to Afghan and Indian “security concerns.” Both Kabul and New Delhi accused Pakistan of supporting terror networks. It seems the US has decided Pakistan’s efforts to dispel these notions do not pass muster.

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